Exasperated from cleaning up after her teens and her husband Ron, Jennie settled in the den in a used mocha leather chair from Pottery Barn a writer had offered her after she’d written a glowing review for his fantastic sports melodrama published by one of the medium houses in the northeast. A plot-driven narrative, the novel had lots of potential in sales, and while there had been lots of alcohol and sex swaps, it was the use of steroids that had driven the story to a happy ending with a positive finding from a review board. For many, the story might have even been classified as a fantasy because of the positive finding and because the media had sided with the football player.
Jennie sipped her wine and glanced at her bookcase, full of free novels and story collections from big houses to self-published authors, and she had long since quit counting the reviews she’d churned out. She’d actually written enough reviews that she could have written a novel herself, but that wasn’t going to happen. She wouldn’t know where to start and didn’t have a creative bone in her body. If it weren’t for the dictionary and thesaurus, she couldn’t have even written a review. She’d circle names and underline parts she thought were particularly good. Jennie had the formula, the same format she used for all her reviews, down pat, and she mostly plugged in basic info about the narrative, characters, and if she really liked the author, she’d throw in a comparison to a historical figure or maybe a big name. She had to run google searches, so no one would know she hadn’t read the historical writers, especially if it was a literary writer she couldn’t understand if she tried.
“What’re you doing?” Ron asked.
“Sipping some wine and getting in the mood for another read,” Jennie said.
“Chick lit novel by a writer named Marianne I met at a festival in the mountains.”
“She a lesbian?”
“I don’t know,” Jennie said. “What does that matter?”
“There was something on the news about some lesbian writer whose book was going to be a movie.”
“What book? Who was the author?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t pay attention.”
“If they replay, let me know. I doubt it’s Marianne. That doesn’t sound like her or her writing.”
“How many people read those reviews you write?”
“I don’t know, but the writers like them. I like to think it helps them with their sales, too.”
“But can’t anyone write a review for those book sites? You don’t have to be a reviewer, right?”
“Well, that’s true. You could post one on Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook or even Twitter. Probably other places, too.”
“Couldn’t I post something even if I hadn’t read the book? Just make it up?”
“Well, I guess you could.”
“What do you get out of it? You don’t get paid.”
“Well, I guess I enjoy the friendships I make.”
“Friends? The only time you see or hear from these people is when you’re writing a review, except for that woman who gave you the chair, or you meet up with them at one of those festivals you’re always going to and what do they do? Sit around and talk about what they’ve done to a group of people who either want to be like them or rub elbows with them? They don’t even pay your way there.”
“Why are you being negative? Are you jealous, Ron?”
“I’m not being negative. I’m being realistic. I’m certainly not jealous of pretend, but I would like to understand it better. It’s like kids I knew who had imaginary friends. I thought that was crazy even as a kid. Maybe I’ll go with you to the next one.”
“Okay, that would be awkward, but yeah, you can go, if you want to hang with the women writers.”
“Would I have to read those books?”
“It might be helpful, unless you want to just sit at a gathering or dinner like a bump on a log.”
“How do you think they would react to me? Think they’d pal up to me, hoping I might influence you to do more. I’ll bet they wouldn’t be mean to me even if I was ugly to them for fear you might write a bad review.”
“Oh for goodness sakes, Ron. That’s nuts.”
“Is it? You’ve got a power that you buy. It takes you out of our house, away from me and the kids, and it makes you feel more special than you do in your job as a customer service agent in your cube for the auto parts company, and have you ever written a negative review?”
Ron walked away and under her breath, Jennie mumbled, “That son of a bitch.” She knocked the wine back, emptying the glass, and got up to go to the kitchen for another. She looked around–the scarred Formica counter tops she wanted to replace with granite when they had the money, the grinding refrigerator with rust around the bottom, the popcorn ceiling sporting a wagon wheel light with orange glass. Jennie poured another glass full, walked back to the chair, plopped, and picked up the preview copy of Marianne’s newest. She sipped the wine and found herself at the beach next to a life guard sporting red shorts. She imagined she might attempt a drowning, so she could be saved.
Niles Reddick is author of a novel Drifting too far from the Shore, a collection Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in many literary magazines including The Arkansas Review: a Journal of Delta Studies, Southern Reader, Like the Dew, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Pomanok Review,Corner Club Press, Slice of Life, Faircloth Review, among others. His website is www.nilesreddick.com
This image by Edward Collier, painted in 1696, is an example of a category of still life artworks known as Vanitas Paintings. The word ‘vanitas’ comes from the Latin adjective vanus which means empty. In Collier’s painting, we see an open book with a poem emphasising mortality. In the Old Testament of the Bible, in The Book of Ecclesiastes, is a verse: ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’ which has come to give meaning to the this type of image. The underlying message of Vanitas Paintings is its reminder to humankind of our mortality, for all is naught, all is in vanity, because the only fact in life is Death. Death is symbolised by the skull in the darkened left hand corner. Can you find other symbols of death?
Edward Collier was born in the Netherlands and came to England in 1693 to paint still life. He died in London in 1708.
Image: Edward Collier, Still Life with a Volume of Wither’s ‘Emblemes’, 1696, oil on canvas, 838 x 1079 mm. Collection of Tate Britain, purchased in 1949.